NEW DELHI, April 8 (IANS) - As veteran social activist Anna Hazare kept up the heat with his anti-corruption campaign Friday, refusing to eat for the fourth day and asking Indians to court arrest, the government felt the pressure but refused to concede two major demands.
Hundreds of schoolchildren, commoners and celebrities made their way to Jantar Mantar, the spot where the 72-year-old is on a fast-unto-death to press for a stronger anti-graft Lokpal Bill. Many more organised protests across the country.
As the movement continued to catch people's imagination, there was a flurry of activity in the corridors of power.
The government has rejected the demands of the activists - to have a former Supreme Court judge as head of a committee that will draft the anti-graft law and to notify the constitution of the panel.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh met United Progressive Alliance (UPA) chairperson Sonia Gandhi and senior ministers Pranab Mukherjee and Kapil Sibal to discuss the issue. He later also met President Pratibha Patil.
Mukherjee appealed to Hazare to end his fast, but the Gandhian was unrelenting.
"I have made a decision and appeal to you that April 12 will be Jail Bharo Andolan. How can they refuse the people's appeal?" asked Hazare, his words greeted by thunderous applause.
"These people (politicians) who have turned us down will come tomorrow asking for votes and say 'give us a chance to serve you'. When the people are giving you the chance to serve, for the country's good, they turn you down. So people will go to jail to teach them a lesson."
He also shot off letters to Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi, requesting them to consider his demands.
"The government agreed to set up a joint drafting committee consisting of 50 percent members from civil society," he wrote to the Prime Minister.
"The government proposed Pranab Mukherjee to head this committee. I request you to reconsider this as people are demanding a non-political person as the chairperson."
Attempts by Sibal to break the impasse with the anti-corruption crusaders have failed.
Sibal had also indicated that no minister would be part of the committee to draft the Lokpal Bill if Hazare insisted on having a member of the civil society as its chief.
At ground zero, the mood was electrifying. Schoolchildren turned up, as did people from Bihar, Jammu and Kashmir and other parts of the country.
"We have come to support Anna because we want a corruption-free future," said Prashant, 13, a Delhi student.
Moved by the support, Hazare said, "Yesterday it was very heartening to see so many young schoolchildren come and support me and the cause. I want to thank you."
In the sea of hundreds of supporters, around 500 were schoolchildren in uniforms, holding placards and shouting slogans.
Bollywood personalities Anupam Kher and Farah Khan came as did former journalist Pritish Nandy.
Saathi Nath Choudhary, 55, who had come from Patna, said: "If Anna says 'jail bharo', then I will go to jail. We need to do everything possible to eliminate corruption from the entire county. If there is a call for going behind bars, I am ready for this."
In Punjab, Haryana, Andhra Pradesh, hundreds of activists, students, doctors, lawyers and teachers have rallied behind Hazare.
"Gali gali mein shor hai, mera neta chor hai" and "Corruption down down!" were some of the slogans raised at a march in Hyderabad.
One man who found instant connect with Hazare's crusade was Gopal Dass, the Indian who is back after languishing in Pakistan jails for 27 years.
"Hazare is doing the right thing and I extend my full support to him. There is no other solution in a country that marred by so many scams and frauds. Our politicians are the main culprits," Dass, 50, told IANS.
Indians in Los Angeles are also organising a day-long fast Saturday in support of Hazare's fight against corruption.